Verbatim: U.S. senators condemn CIA detention, interrorgation activities


 December, 2014


For six years after the 9/11 terror attacks on the United States, the country’s Central Intelligence Agency tortured prisoners;  misled American leaders and the American public; kept prisoners in conditions that led to their deaths, and “damaged the United States’ standing in the world.”

This iconic image of Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq, eventually commanded the cover of the Economist magazine.

Ali Shallal al-Qaisi being tortured in Abu Ghraib prison, in Iraq. Public domain/U.S. Army / Criminal Investigation Command (CID). Photo via Wikipedia: The Hooded Man, by Staff Sgt. Ivan Frederick of the prisoner nicnamed Gilligan and later correctly identified as Abdou Hussain Saad Faleh standing on the box with wires attached to his left and right hand.

None of these allegations are new. Never before, though, have they come from American law-makers.

The U.S. Senate’s Select Committee on Intelligence, on Dec. 9,  released a set of official conclusions about CIA activities after the terror attacks that can only be called damning.

“It is my personal conclusion that, under any common meaning of the term, CIA detainees were tortured,” said the committee’s chair, Dianne Feinstein, Dem-Calif. “I also believe that the conditions of confinement and the use of authorized and unauthorized interrogation and conditioning techniques were cruel, inhuman and degrading. I believe the evidence of this is overwhelming and incontrovertible.”

 The report was approved by the Senate committee in 2012. It was declassified and released by Democrats on the committee in what is effectively their 11th hour — Democrats will soon lose control of the the committee to Republicans. All but one of the Republicans on the committee, as well as former CIA and other officials, had objected to both the committee’s approval of the report in 2012, and to its release.

For the history of the report, we recommend ProPublica’s Timeline: The Tortured History of the Senate’s Torture Report.

Selected excerpts: Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

#1: The CIA’s use of its enhanced interrogation techniques was not an effective means of acquiring intelligence or gaining cooperation from detainees.

#2: The CIA’s justification for the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques rested on inaccurate claims of their effectiveness.

The CIA represented to the White House, the National Security Council, the department of justice, the CIA Office of  [the] Inspector General,Congress and the public that the best measure of effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques was examples of specific terrorist plots “thwarted” and specific terrorists captured as a result of the use of the techniques. The CIA used these examples to claim that its enhanced interrogation techniques were not only effective, but also necessary to acquire “otherwise unavailable” actionable intelligence that “saved lives.”

The committee reviewed 20 of the most frequent and prominent examples of purported counterterrorism successes that the CIA has attributed to the use of its enhanced interrogation techniques, and found them to be wrong in fundamental respects.

U.S. Senatore Diane Feinstein in 2011. Official photo

U.S. Senator Diane Feinstein, Chair, Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. Official 2011 photo

#3: The interrogations of CIA detainees were brutal and far worse than the CIA represented to policymakers and others.

Beginning with the CIA’s first detainee, Abu Zubaydah, and continuing with numerous others, the CIA applied its enhanced interrogation techniques with significant repetition for days or weeks at a time. Interrogation techniques such as slaps and “wallings” (slamming detainees against a wall) were used in combination, frequently concurrent with sleep deprivation and nudity. Records do not support CIA representations that the CIA initially used an “an open, non- threatening approach,”^ or that interrogations began with the “least coercive technique possible”^ and escalated to more coercive techniques only as necessary.

The waterboarding technique was physically harmful, inducing convulsions and vomiting. Abu Zubaydah, for example, became “completely unresponsive, with bubbles rising through his open, fullmouth.'”^ Internal CIA records describe the waterboarding of Khalid Shaykh Mohammadas evolving into a “series of near drownings.”^

Sleep deprivation involved keeping detainees awake for up to 180 hours, usually standing or in stress positions, at times with their hands shackled above their heads. At least five detainees experienced disturbing hallucinations during prolonged sleep deprivation and, in at least two of those cases, the CIA nonetheless continued the sleep deprivation.

Contrary to CIA representations . . . , the CIA instructed personnel that the interrogation of Abu Zubaydah would take “precedence” over his medical care,^ resulting in the deterioration of a bullet wound Abu Zubaydah incurred during his capture. In at least two other cases, the CIA used its enhanced interrogation techniques despite warnings from CIA medical personnel that the techniques could exacerbate physical injuries. CIA medical personnel treated at least one detainee for swelling in order to allow the continued use of standing sleep deprivation.

At least five CIA detainees were subjected to “rectal rehydration” or rectal feeding without documented medical necessity. The CIA placed detainees in ice water “baths.” The CIA led several detainees to believe they would never be allowed to leave CIA custody alive, suggesting to one . . . that he only leave in a coffin-shapedbox.^ . . . CIA officers also threatened at least three detainees with harm to their families — [including] threats to harm the children of a detainee, threats to sexually abuse the mother of a detainee, and a threat to “cut [a detainee’s] mother’s throat.”

#4: The conditions of confinement for CIA detainees were harsher than the CIA had represented to policy-makers and others.

Conditions at CIA detention sites were poor, and were especially bleak early in the program. CIA detainees at [one] facility were kept in complete darkness and constantly shackled in isolated cells with loud noise or music and only a bucket to use for human waste. Lack of heat at the facility likely contributed to the death of a detainee. . . .

At times, the detainees at [this facility] were walked around naked or were shackled with their hands above their heads for extended periods . . . . Other times, the detainees . . . were subjected to what was described as a “rough takedown,” in which approximately five CIA officers would scream at a detainee, drag him outside of his cell, cut his clothes off, and secure him with . . . tape. The detainee would then be hooded and dragged up and down a long corridor while being slapped and punched.

Even after the conditions of confinement improved with the construction of new detention facilities, detainees were held in total isolation except when being interrogated or debriefed by CIA personnel. . . .

#5: The CIA repeatedly provided inaccurate information to the department of justice, impeding a proper legal analysis of the CIA’s detention and interrogation program.

#6: The CIA has actively avoided or impeded congressional oversight of the program.

#7: The CIA impeded effective White House oversight and decision-making.

#8: The CIA’s operation and management of the program complicated, and in some cases impeded, the national security missions of other presidential agencies.

#9; The CIA impeded oversight by the CIA’s Office of [the] Inspector General.

#10: The CIA coordinated the release of classified information to the media, including inaccurate information concerning the effectiveness of the CIA’s enhanced interrogation techniques.

CIA director John Brennan, appointed long after the events, responded to the report by saying efforts by the agency and other American and foreign agencies’ prevented terrorist attacks, maintaining “countless lives have been saved and our Homeland is more secure.”</p>

John O. Brennan, Director, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency

John O. Brennan, Director, U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. Official photo

As part of the CIA’s global effort to dismantle al-Qa’ida and to prevent future terrorist attacks, the agency was directed by President Bush six days after 9/11 to carry out a program to detain terrorist suspects around the world. Certain detainees were subjected to enhanced interrogation techniques, which the department of uustice determined at the time to be lawful and which were duly authorized by the Bush administration. These techniques, which were last used by the CIA in December 2007, subsequently were prohibited by an Executive Order issued by President Obama when he took office in January 2009.

We acknowledge that the detention and interrogation program had shortcomings and that the agency made mistakes. The most serious problems occurred early on and stemmed from the fact that the Agency was unprepared and lacked the core competencies required to carry out an unprecedented, worldwide program of detaining and interrogating suspected . . . terrorists. In carrying out that program, we did not always live up to the high standards that we set for ourselves and that the American people expect of us. As an agency, we have learned from these mistakes, which is why my predecessors and I have implemented various remedial measures over the years to address institutional deficiencies.

. . . we part ways with the [Senate]  committee on some key points. Our review indicates that [enhanced interrogation techniques]. . . did produce intelligence that helped thwart attack plans, capture terrorists and save lives. . . .

We also disagree with the Study’s characterization of how CIA briefed the program to Congress, various entities within the executive branch and the public. While we made mistakes, the record does not support the study’s inference that the agency systematically and intentionally misled each of these audiences on the effectiveness of the program. . . .

Amnesty International described the Senate report as “a stark reminder of the ongoing impunity for the many appalling human rights violations perpetrated in the name of ‘national
security.’ “

The [summary] provides more details of how the Central Intelligence Agency resorted to “waterboarding”, mock execution, sexual threats and other forms of torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment against detainees who had been forcibly disappeared. The acts were carried out during the rendition and secret detention programs that followed the crime against humanity committed on 11 September 2001 (9/11).

The summary report also provides some information of the effects of the interrogation techniques and detention conditions on the detainees themselves, including “hallucinations, paranoia, insomnia, and attempts at self-harm and self-mutilation”.

“This report provides yet more damning detail of some of the human rights violations that were authorized by the highest authorities in the USA after 9/11. Despite much evidence having been in the public realm for years, no one has been brought to justice for authorizing or carrying out the acts in these CIA programmes,” said Erika Guevara Rosas, Americas Director Amnesty International.

Limited US Department of Justice investigations into CIA interrogations were ended in 2012 without anyone being charged. Likewise the CIA’s destruction of videotapes of interrogation sessions – containing possible evidence of crimes under international law – did not result in any charges.

Access to justice for those who endured abuses has been systematically blocked by US authorities, including on the grounds of state secrecy….

Excerpts of statement by Republican Senator John McCain:

Mr. President, I rise in support of the release – the long-delayed release – of the Senate Intelligence Committee’s summarized, unclassified review of the so-called ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ that were employed by the previous administration to extract information from captured terrorists. It is a thorough and thoughtful study of practices that I believe not only failed their purpose – to secure actionable intelligence to prevent further attacks on the U.S. and our allies – but actually damaged our security interests, as well as our reputation as a force for good in the world.

“I believe the American people have a right – indeed, a responsibility – to know what was done in their name; how these practices did or did not serve our interests; and how they comported with our most important values.

“I commend Chairman Feinstein and her staff for their diligence in seeking a truthful accounting of policies I hope we will never resort to again. I thank them for persevering against persistent opposition from many members of the intelligence community, from officials in two administrations, and from some of our colleagues.

“The truth is sometimes a hard pill to swallow. It sometimes causes us difficulties at home and abroad. It is sometimes used by our enemies in attempts to hurt us. But the American people are entitled to it, nonetheless.

“They must know when the values that define our nation are intentionally disregarded by our security policies, even those policies that are conducted in secret. They must be able to make informed judgments about whether those policies and the personnel who supported them were justified in compromising our values; whether they served a greater good; or whether, as I believe, they stained our national honor, did much harm and little practical good.

“What were the policies? What was their purpose? Did they achieve it? Did they make us safer? Less safe? Or did they make no difference? What did they gain us? What did they cost us? The American people need the answers to these questions. Yes, some things must be kept from public disclosure to protect clandestine operations, sources and methods, but not the answers to these questions….

“I have long believed some of these practices amounted to torture, as a reasonable person would define it, especially, but not only the practice of waterboarding, which is a mock execution and an exquisite form of torture. Its use was shameful and unnecessary; and, contrary to assertions made by some of its defenders and as the Committee’s report makes clear, it produced little useful intelligence to help us track down the perpetrators of 9/11 or prevent new attacks and atrocities.

“I know from personal experience that the abuse of prisoners will produce more bad than good intelligence. I know that victims of torture will offer intentionally misleading information if they think their captors will believe it. I know they will say whatever they think their torturers want them to say if they believe it will stop their suffering. Most of all, I know the use of torture compromises that which most distinguishes us from our enemies, our belief that all people, even captured enemies, possess basic human rights, which are protected by international conventions the U.S. not only joined, but for the most part authored….

References and further reading:

The Senate report has been removed from the intelligence committee site, but its contents are discussed on the Stanford Library site: (updated Dec. 2015)

Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, summary.

CIA redacted response to the Senate study, June, 2013, redacted, and released Dec. 9:

CIA Fact Sheet response to the Senate study:

Amnesty International press release:

Senator John McCain’s floor statement in support of the report and its release.


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